For one resident, Strand Avenue project proves you can't trust the process

BRATTLEBORO — Strand Avenue - that once-tiny and picturesque road beloved by town walkers which connects busy Western Avenue to busy Williams Street - is undergoing reconstruction, with the replacement of two retaining walls and addition of a lane to the top of the road. A real, actual bona fide second lane.

Strand Avenue residents, shown only rough plans several years ago, thought their one-lane road would be “slightly” widened to 16 feet. But upper Strand will become two genuine 8-foot “minimum-width” lanes, as described by the Selectboard at its July 16 meeting.

Moreover, although on final plans Strand Avenue appears to be 16 feet tightly flanked by new walls, the distance between such walls at the actual site is 21{1/2} feet.

What's going on here?

A cautionary tale, indeed. Residents never suspected that the concerns they voiced in early meetings with planning officials were meaningless because the Traffic Safety Committee would dictate the fate and size of their road. They never even knew the committee was involved. Nor were they told when the funds were allocated or when at other times they could have spoken up again.

There's a moral here: Even if a show is made of including Brattleboro residents in decisions about the road they live on, they must ferret out the real steps in the process and insert themselves into each one.

Otherwise, they might end up with a road they never imagined in their worst dreams, and when they complain, a town official will tell them to “trust the process” - exactly what one official did tell Strand residents at a July 15 neighborhood meeting when they asked for a walk up to the site to explain the plans.

Don't trust the process. It vanishes in the maze of town bureaucracy.

The Strand Avenue/West Street neighborhood was always divided about keeping the road open, but no one ever asked that it become two lanes. No one on Strand or West, to my knowledge, wants two lanes now.

Cars used to negotiate the one lane carefully. But when, on July 16, I asked the Selectboard to consider rebuilding the road at its original 14-foot width for a host of aesthetic and safety reasons, now that the east wall must be rebuilt anyway with properly sized blocks, the board said the road would go forward exactly as planned.

Bureaucracy, it seems, just grinds on, despite a second chance to do what's right for this little scenic slice of historic Vermont and all the Brattleboro residents who enjoy it.

The charm that walkers loved will be lost, if they manage to walk down the road at all. Who can walk down the steepest street in town while dodging cars that try to pass?

After $314,000 of wasted taxpayer money, Strand Avenue will be ugly, a super-sized expanse of tar and concrete - and it will also be less safe.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates